UNF carving program to bring potatoes to Germany – UNF Spinnaker

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Potato is one of the most popular vegetables in the world. People might be familiar with red, golden or even sweet potatoes, but two professors at the University of North Florida (UNF) are working to add “sculpture” to the list.

Lance Vickery and Jenny Hager, husband and wife, are the only full-time sculpting teachers at UNF. With over 50 years of sculpting experience in between, 15 of them at university, it’s safe to say they know their way around. Their work, including that of their students, can be seen all over campus, including the popular Colonel Crackers and spark attack.

The steel fence is cut and ground before being welded into a basket, photo by Nathan Turoff

Every four years, the International Conference on the Contemporary Art of Cast Iron (ICCCIA) meets to:

“To create an international platform for the exploration and practice of contemporary cast iron sculpture and to inspire global participation in aesthetic, conceptual, cultural, historical and technical dialogue on contemporary cast iron art”, according to their website.

The next meeting of the ICCCIA will take place in September and will be held in Berlin. Armed with this knowledge, Vickery and Hager created an idea to present at the conference: potatoes.

However, this is no ordinary sculpture depicting ordinary potatoes growing underground. They’re making a huge metal potato effigy — a big-faced potato and stand — where they plan to cook and serve real potatoes. The couple and their students are currently preparing a test of what it will look like for the conference since almost everything will have to be recreated in Germany.

The steel cladding of the Potato being assembled outdoors, photo by Nathan Turoff

The large potato sculpture will have a steel frame and liner. His facial accessories, such as a nose and mustache, will be cast iron. The stand will be used to cook and serve the potatoes themselves. This whole room will serve as a celebration of the potatoes themselves.

The Potato’s Iron Nose, photo by Nathan Turoff

But why potatoes? Why not another vegetable? According to Hager, the absurdity behind the decision compelled them to choose her.

When the conference was first announced, they wanted something “absurd” to stand out from the COVID-19 pandemic of the past few years. Potatoes are staples of many cultures, including Germany, and were even the first vegetable grown and eaten in space. The decision was obvious.

“Every crop has potatoes; you are what you eat,” Hager said.

The sign on the stand reads “Du bist eine kartoffel”, which translates to “You are a potato” in German, photo by Nathan Turoff

Some of their students are currently working on molds made from real potatoes. According to Hager, these molds will also be filled with molten iron to create potatoes with “growing” metal flowers as part of the display. The molds are made of sand and resin and come in two halves.

Sculpture students mix sand and resin with a machine, photo by Nathan Turoff

The halves are held together by thin bands of iron, staying together as the molten iron is poured into the mold.

A graphite wash with alcohol seals the mold so the molten iron does not stick, photo by Nathan Turoff

But where does all this metal come from? Everything comes from Commercial Metals Company (CMC), a local company that recycles scrap metal. Sometimes they give large objects like iron tubs and sinks that the sculptors break with sledgehammers.

Professors strongly encourage students interested in this field to take sculpture courses at UNF, where majors and minors are available. In 2015, the sculpture program moved from the Palace of Fine Arts to its current location in the UNF annex, giving them much more space.

The pouring of cast iron for the molds takes place in an important ceremony for students and teachers, which only takes place once a semester. Their Spring 2022 pouring ceremony will take place on Saturday, April 9 from 4-8 p.m., where they will pour 2,000 pounds of melted scrap metal.

The ceremony is open to all students, and Hager and Vickery strongly encourage public participation. The ceremony will take place behind the sculpture studio in Building 6.

You can find more information about the sculpting program here.

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